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The Australian Taxation Office issued more than a dozen warrants last week as part of Operation Protego, as part of a crackdown on individuals suspected of defrauding the community by inventing fake businesses to claim false refunds.
The ATO-led Serious Financial Crime Taskforce (SFCT) launched a coordinated action on 15, 16 and 17 June in 12 locations across NSW, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia, and Queensland, which saw warrants executed against 19 individuals suspected of being involved in GST fraud.
ATO deputy commissioner and SFCT chief Will Day said the warrants followed warnings last month for participants to come forward before stronger action was taken.
“The ATO has stopped more than a billion dollars in attempted fraud. This is a clear warning to individuals considering participating – you will not be successful, you are not anonymous, and you will face the consequences of your attempts,” Mr Day said.
Mr Day warned that last week’s operation was only the first of many.
“For those that have already committed this fraud, we know who you are, and you will need to repay the fake refunds you have obtained. You could face severe consequences, including jail if you do not speak to us before we knock on your door. Come forward now or face potentially tougher penalties,” he said.
“Operation Protego was referred to the SFCT as a priority and we will continue to take swift and decisive action against anyone taking part in financial crime.”
During this week’s raids the ATO, with the support of the Australian Federal Police (AFP), collected evidence, intelligence, and information to support its ongoing investigations. This activity follows the arrests of six individuals earlier this month in Victoria in connection to the fraud.
The fraud involves offenders inventing fake businesses and Australian business number (ABN) applications, many in their own names, then submitting fictitious business activity statements in an attempt to gain a false GST refund. In some cases, people have been encouraged to hand over their personal details to facilitators.
AFP Commander Economic, Corporate Crime and Corruption, Christopher Woods, said that the exploitation of Australia’s tax system has a serious impact on the community and is a matter that the AFP takes very seriously.
“Every dollar fraudulently obtained represents lost funds that could have been used to benefit everyday Australians in our community,” Commander Woods said.
“The AFP is committed to combatting financial crimes and we will continue to work diligently with our partners in the Serious Financial Crime Taskforce to disrupt and dismantle criminals seeking to cheat the tax system.”
The SFCT was supported by Victoria Police, NSW Police, Queensland Police Service, South Australia Police, Tasmania Police and Western Australia Police in the operational activity.
Anyone who is involved is encouraged to come forward by calling 1300 130 017 rather than wait and face even tougher consequences later. More information is available at ato.gov.au/GSTrefundfraud